Teenage girls in Leeds are missing school because they can’t afford sanitary products.
Freedom4girls, a campaign group that provides women and girls with sanitary products in Kenya, were contacted by a local school who were concerned about a number of truancy cases by girls. The absenteeism presented a pattern for school officer Sara Barrie, who first flagged the situation up.
“It’s embarrassing, owning up that your mum and dad haven’t got any money,” she said. She also indicated she had just scratched the surface in discovering how far truancy was linked to girls’ periods.
Tina Leslie, a campaigner with freedom4girls, echoed this, saying, “there is a problem, but we just don’t know how big.”
Ms Leslie said it was unclear how many girls across the UK were being affected by the issue, but she did say it was linked to poverty, saying, “If you’ve got no food, you’ve got no money for sanitary protection.” The use of food banks has increased dramatically across the UK, with 25,000 in Leeds alone last year, giving an indication of the large numbers of girls for whom this will be a problem.
The lack of education about menstruation also contributes to the issue, with one teen saying she missed school for weeks at a time when she started her period as she didn’t understand what was happening.
Bethany Bartley-Jeacock, a student, said her school used to stock sanitary supplies, which would go a long way towards helping the girls in need. “By the time I was in year 9 the school medical office had started giving out period packs to girls in need. It was a fantastic idea and I hope it has continued to this day.”
Leslie added that the aim of campaigns by Freedom4girls was to give girls their “dignity” back.
The lack of awareness about menstrual health is also something Freedom4girls are trying to combat. Recently, they have been running workshops in Leeds University Union for World Unite Festival, in conjunction with Leeds Intercultural Ambassadors. These workshops have been aimed at allowing people to create safe sanitary kits that will then be used by women and girls in Kenya, as well as raising awareness of the issue of safe menstrual and reproductive health.
Bothaina Tashani is part of the Freedom4girls Intercultural Ambassadors team, who have been working on this campaign since November. Speaking about their efforts, she said it is an issue “many had never heard or thought about it before, again highlighting the social stigma and quietness around the topic of periods.”
The next workshop will be on Wednesday 22nd March.
Bothaina also said it was “troubling” that “girls in school [were] unable to afford sanitary protection in a country as developed as the UK.”
“However, it is not surprising and only serves to highlight the major inadequacies in the lack of menstrual health education in the national curriculum,” emphasising the need for a shift on policy on an issue that affects so many.